31 December 2013

Fixing the Fault Lines in 2014

IssueCourtesy: Mail Today| Date : 30 Dec , 2013

Our major foreign policy challenges are enduring and no dramatic change in our security environment is likely in 2014. Relations with Pakistan could actually worsen. Nawaz Sharif is focusing on Kashmir, knowing that it is a dead-end issue. His strong links with Punjab-based jihadi groups, the continuing grip of the Pakistani military on policies towards India, his adviser Sartaz Aziz’s new environmentalist twist that India vacate Siachen to cease polluting Pakistan’s waters, Pakistan’s prevarication on DGMO talks to end LOC firings, relegating the MFN issue to the back-drawer, are all negative portents.

For self-reliance and more effective external projection, we need better, more decisive governance, which our fractured polity does not guarantee us in 2014.

Afghan Problem

Developments in Afghanistan can potentially worsen our security environment as the prospects of stability there are uncertain. US/UK efforts to accommodate the Taliban with Pakistan’s cooperation facilitates the latter’s re-entry into Afghanistan even though it is the most de-stabilisation factor there. This will strain our strategic partnership with Afghanistan, requiring us to re-write our plans for investment there and we will not obtain access to Central Asian oil and gas resources. Our security threat from extremist ideologies backed by Pakistani hostility will increase.

Hobbled China Policy

China is becoming more self-assertive with its growing economic and military power. Its conduct in the western Pacific signals that its seemingly softer posture towards us currently can turn harder if it suits its strategy. Its position on border differences remains intrinsically hard and border negotiations from progressing on equitable terms will be prevented. It seeks a stabilisation of the status quo which gives it freedom to nibble away at our territory in sensitive areas. Our military and infrastructure expansion plans are medium term and will not materially change equations in 2014. Our China policies are handicapped by excessive prudence, now influenced also by domestic economic lobbies.

Rifts in India-US Ties

Improved India-US ties was an external gain in recent years but the difficulties in managing an unequal relationship and differences on key multilateral issues have exposed the limitations of forging real strategic ties. The prevailing view is that relations have already reached a plateau. US corporate, once the strongest proponents of stronger India-US ties, have become powerful critics of our trade, investment and tax policies. Our nuclear liability law has become a sore point, with the expanded defence relationship not satisfying those who expect greater returns from India for the nuclear deal. India is sceptical of the US re-balancing towards Asia and does not want to be caught in the uncertain outcomes of US-China rivalry in the background of huge mutual interdependence. These fault-lines will continue to test the resilience of India-US ties in 2014. Added to this is the current diplomatic wrangle over the deplorable treatment of a senior Indian diplomat in New York, which is symptomatic of the moral fraud and arrogance that permeates US handling of international affairs whose victims can be friendly countries like India too. The tide of antipathy towards the US in India’s diplomatic cadre is so strong currently that its after-effects will be palpably felt in our dealings with the US in 2014.

Technologically advanced projects and emerging concerns

December 31, 2013
Ramaswamy R. Iyer

The HinduIndia can go ahead with the Kishenganga project (pictured in north Kashmir) with some modifications and Pakistan’s concern about drawdown flushing has found an answer, after the arbitration court’s verdict. Photo: Nissar Ahmad

Interventions in the flows of a river should be minimal. But this issue cannot be argued on the basis of the Indus Water Treaty, only on the basis of current concerns

Last February, the Court of Arbitration set up under the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT), 1960, had given an interim award on the Kishenganga dispute, allowing the diversion of waters from one tributary of the Jhelum to another. It has now given the final award indicating the extent of permissible diversion. In order to understand this fully, it is necessary to go back to the Baglihar arbitration because some of the issues that arose in that case find a sequel in the present one.

(Before getting into the subject at hand, let me say that I have serious reservations about the so-called run-of-the-river hydroelectric projects. However, setting aside my own concerns, I am writing this article strictly from the perspective of the IWT.)

In the Baglihar Project, Pakistan had posed certain points of difference on design and engineering matters, and the Neutral Expert (NE) had given his findings on them. We need not go into those issues here but must take note of two points on which Pakistan felt acute concern. First, the NE had observed that the fact that the IWT was signed in 1960 did not freeze all future projects to 1960 technology, and that state-of-the-art technology can be adopted (that is a paraphrase, not an exact quotation). Secondly, he had stressed the importance of proper maintenance of the facilities built and advocated the periodical ‘drawdown’ flushing of the reservoir to get rid of sediment.

The first statement that the IWT did not preclude the use of post-IWT technological advances seemed eminently sensible and could not easily be questioned, but Pakistani experts and scholars felt (rightly) that on the same count it would also be justifiable to take into account other new and emerging concerns. On the second point, namely the advocacy of ‘drawdown flushing’ of the reservoir, Pakistan felt that this amounted to a major re-interpretation of the Indus Treaty and seriously compromised the protection against being flooding provided to Pakistan by the IWT.

Military and the Media

IssueNet Edition| Date : 29 Dec , 2013

Military Veterans interact with the media at the Lucknow Literary Carnival

The Lucknow Literature Carnival 2013 held from 6 to 8 December for the first time had a full session on Defence Writing. It generated quite a bit of enthusiasm in the journalistic circles. What is more significant is the interaction between many journalists including a leading independent journalist from Lucknow with the veteran defence participants. While the journalists appreciated participation of former defence personnel in such event, they conveyed that they did not have much knowledge of matters military and there were no guidelines as to what should be written about the military and more importantly, what should not be written about the military.

Compare this with the 9/11 terrorist strike at the twin towers in the US where no media was permitted to go within kilometers of ground zero for many days.

Witness the graphic cover over the years whenever Corps level exercises are held, replete with drawings showing how the pincers of the Strike Corps will strike deep into Pakistan. National security is blatantly ignored as well. For example, in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attack on our Parliament, print media including prominent magazines came out with detailed layout of Parliament, giving which minister and which functionary sits where – an exercise that would only help the terrorists plan the next strike in better manner. Compare this with the 9/11 terrorist strike at the twin towers in the US where no media was permitted to go within kilometers of ground zero for many days. In sharp contrast was the detailed media coverage throughout the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attack giving full coverage of movement of own security forces, much to the glee of the terrorists and their Pakistani handlers. Not that the so called Home Minister had any sense of security announcing on the electronic media as to when the NSG force would take off from Delhi and how much time they would take to reach Mumbai. Media too blissfully covered which roof (s) the NSG boys were being put down by helicopters.

It is quite obvious that neither the Principal Information Officer of the Government of India is focused on such an important issue nor the Press Club of India has come up with any worthwhile Dos and Don’ts. To top this is the penchant of the politico-bureaucratic-mafia nexus to keep the military down any which way, not to talk of the ISI money that would be flowing in to show the Indian Military in poor light. Even the Prime Minister has acknowledged the existence of “Paid Media”. Not that it is a new phenomenon. MK Dhar, former Joint Director, Intelligence Bureau wrote in his book ‘Open Secrets – India’s Intelligence Unveiled’, “The susceptibility of the fourth estate to the intelligence community had tied our hands down. They are one too many holy Indian cows. Some of them, as described by a senior member of the fourth estate, ‘taxi on hire’. Any paymaster can hire this particular brand”. Editor of a national daily front-paging an attempted military coup through two battalions marching from Agra towards the national capital and stopped enroute (if you please) by the police should be no surprise. He obviously had compulsions; links, skeletons, lick up political bosses, more padding for living beyond means and what have you – ethics be damned.

Interestingly, the Sunday Guardian talked of the story having been fed to the editor by a high profile Union Minister whose relatives are linked to the arms mafia

Interestingly, the Sunday Guardian talked of the story having been fed to the editor by a high profile Union Minister whose relatives are linked to the arms mafia. The editor had cited a “reliable source” while front-paging the coup story – perhaps the same “reliable source” on whose basis the same editor also front-paged news of the retirement of a former army chief even when no such orders had been issued by the government. Interstingly, describing this very editor, former Ambassador K Gajendra Singh had written on April 5, 2012, “………. A top US/ Mumbai corporate interests count, who also disseminates the ruling party’s line and is suitably rewarded by invitations to official dinners etc. Like many others who have prostituted the profession of Journalism, ……. Will probably be nominated to Rajya Sabha.

A Year-end Security Review of Southern Asia

December 31, 2013

The year gone by saw both China and Pakistan become militarily more assertive on India’s borders than ever before in the last decade. While China launched a major incursion into the DBO sector of Ladakh and took several weeks to take the PLA troops back across the LAC, Pakistan repeatedly violated the cease-fire agreement and once again stepped up infiltration of terrorists across the LoC to launch strikes in Kashmir after lying low for several years.

Topping the charts of the unstable regional security environment in Southern Asia is Afghanistan’s endless conflict. The present situation can be characterised as a stalemate at the strategic and the tactical levels. This will continue with the Taliban and the Afghan-NATO-ISAF forces alternately gaining local ascendancy for short durations in the core provinces of Helmand, Marja and Kandahar. The Afghan National Army is still many years away from achieving the professional standards necessary to manage security on its own. It will, therefore, be difficult for the NATO-ISAF forces to conduct a responsible drawdown of troops in 2014. The US forces are likely to continue to launch drone strikes in Pakistan against extremists sheltering in the Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa and FATA areas despite the adverse diplomatic fallout. A gradual drift into civil war appears to be the most likely outcome.

Pakistan’s half-hearted struggle against the remnants of the al Qaeda and the home grown Taliban like the TTP and the TNSM, fissiparous tendencies in Baluchistan, continuing radical extremism and creeping Talibanisation in the heartland, the tentative counter-terrorism steps of the new civilian government, the floundering economy and, consequently, the nation’s gradual slide towards becoming a ‘failed state’, pose a major security challenge for the region. Unless the Pakistan army gives up its idiosyncratic notions of seeking strategic depth in Afghanistan and fuelling terrorism in India and concentrates instead on fighting all varieties of Taliban that are threatening the cohesion of the state, the eventual break-up of Pakistan may be inevitable.

Sri Lanka’s inability to find a lasting solution to its ethnic problems despite the comprehensive defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam has serious repercussions for stability in the island nation. Despite the election of a civilian government, the gradual resurgence of the LTTE remains likely as the core issue of autonomy has not been addressed. The rising tide of Islamist fundamentalist terrorism in Bangladesh, even as it struggles for economic upliftment to subsistence levels, could trigger new forces of destruction if left unchecked. Much will depend on which party emerges as the largest after the elections scheduled in January 2014.

The Maoist ascendancy in Nepal and its adverse impact on Nepal’s fledgling democracy, as also Nepal’s newfound inclination to seek neutrality between India and China, are a blow to what has historically been a stable India-Nepal relationship. Simmering discontentment is gathering momentum in Tibet and Xinjiang against China’s repressive regime and could result in an open revolt. The peoples’ nascent movement for democracy in Myanmar and several long festering insurgencies may destabilise the military Junta despite its post-election confidence. The movement for democracy could turn violent if the ruling Junta continues to deny its citizens basic human rights. The spillover of religious extremism and terrorism from Afghanistan and political instability in the CARs are undermining development and governance. Other negative factors impacting regional stability in Southern Asia include the unchecked proliferation of small arms, being nurtured and encouraged by large-scale narcotics trafficking and its nexus with radical extremism.

India’s internal security environment has been vitiated by Pakistan’s two-decade old proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir, continuing insurgency in several of India’s north-eastern states, the unchecked rise of Maoist or Naxalite (left wing) extremism in Central India and the new wave of urban terrorism, which peaked with the dastardly attacks in Mumbai on November 26, 2008. During 2013, there was little improvement in the state of internal conflicts. In fact, the Maoists are gradually establishing their ability to strike at will at a point and time of their choosing. The security forces continue to lose men, arms and ammunition in these strikes.

India-China Relations: Scenario 2014


December 30, 2013

By 2014, President Xi Jinping would have completed one year in office. He has quickly consolidated his position and ensured that he along with Premier Li Keqiang will stay in power for full ten years until 2023. In the recent plenum, Xi outlined China’s direction for economic reforms and foreign policy priority for the next decade. It is believed that Xi’s policies will be as decisive for China as Deng Xiaoping had unveiled.

India too hopefully will have a new political leadership equally powerful to carry out forceful reforms measures long overdue. The global slowdown apart domestic political debacle has plunged India into a deep economic crisis in 2013.

The India-China relations story at 2013 end had a more positive than negative tone. China’s new leaders exhibited “positive vibes” and surprisingly affable attitude towards the Indian counterpart; missing since the 1950’s bonhomie. The Depsang incident though overshadowed good part of the story; the exchange of visits by leaders indicated the importance of the relationship. Premier Li chose India as his first overseas stop. This was a deliberate choice.

The pronouncements of their intent to deepen ties with India as China’s “strategic choice” along with promise to make “greater efforts” to resolve boundary issue is a welcome move. For, President Xi, the Chinese and Indian “dreams” are inter-connected and mutually compatible. Equally positive voice came from the Indian leadership for rejecting the relevance of “containment” idea in favour of “cooperation” that could bring more gains instead. The overall message was; time for confronting and containing each other is over and the wisdom should lay in cooperation and benefiting from achievements for the common good. Two clear signs were visible; a) the “strategic partnership” launched in 2005 was yielding enduring results in a broad spectrum, b) leadership has gained higher level of confidence.

It should be easy for the new Indian leadership in 2014 to build on these achievements. But the questions whether India should join with others to offset China’s influence or should it cooperate with China will confront the new leadership. Pressures will mount not to be soft on China. The Chinese media will also view Indian infrastructure buildup as provocative. But, it is the lingering differences over boundary dispute that may continue to threaten India-China story, though interim measures are in place to manage the differences, until a final solution and hopefully this is sustained. The challenge in 2014 for the strong leadership both in China and India would be to make more steps towards finding a mutually acceptable boundary settlement. Both on the boundary and trans-border rivers issues, there could be an out-of-the-box thinking available should it be explored.

To be sure commerce will continue to drive the engine of relationship, but challenge before the next leadership is to resolve trade imbalance $40 billion against India. Significantly, India has overcome past apprehensions and is getting more receptive to the Chinese proposals. The Border Defence pact is a case in point. The prospects of a Regional Trade Agreement (RTA), Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), setting up industrial zones and aligning the (BCIM) Economic Corridor are being positively looked into. Importantly, new Indian leadership will do well learning from China’s experience of spurring internal economic development with regional and global linkages.

China’s influence in South Asia, encircling India, forays into Indian Ocean et al continue to loom large and creates mistrust. However, a view has come around the point that strategic partnerships with other countries must not be seen directed against each other. On the strategic front, the global powers so far tended to pitch India as a countervailing force against China. India was particularly seen as a linchpin in the US’s “pivot-Asia” strategy. Surely, a closer relationship with Japan and US may have served some purpose, but reliability on the US as a partner and a balancer has come under scrutiny recently. Moreover, the idea of India joining the contestation in the Asia-Pacific is being viewed as a ‘development fraught with uncertainty’ and best stay out of it. The leadership would do best to recognise the overlapping than conflicting interests in this uncertain global strategic environment.

How India can leapfrog to the future

December 29th, 2013

Watch ‘India at a Crossroads,’ a GPS special, this Sunday at 10 a.m. & 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Barnik Maitra and Adil Zainulbhai, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Barnik C. Maitra is a partner at McKinsey & Company’s Mumbai office and co-editor of Reimagining India. Adil Zainulbhai is Chairman of McKinsey India and co-editor of Reimagining India. The views expressed are their own.

In a village 100 miles from any cities in Andhra Pradesh, a young woman, three months pregnant, is getting her first and only medical check-up. This is happening on board a visiting medical van that now comes to the village every month. The paramedic gives her basic vitamins and enters various vital parameters into an online data base. Two weeks later, when she feels a little unwell, she calls a toll-free number from her family’s mobile phone, connects a $1 monitor to it, and talks to a doctor. He studies her vital signs through the monitor and reassures her that everything is fine this time. Five months and five such virtual check-ups later, it is time for her to go to the hospital. The online doctor sends her an ambulance, which drops her 90 miles away at the nearest hospital, for a safe delivery.

Thousands of mothers in Andhra Pradesh and around India are benefiting from the frugal technologies of wireless connectivity, sensors, software, and having a safer childbirth.

The combination of cheaper devices, easy connectivity and the high aspirations of the population could help India leapfrog development in several areas. Broadband internet can transform primary and secondary schooling by bringing the best teachers and techniques into every classroom. In Reimagining India: Unlocking the Potential of Asia's Next Superpower, edited by McKinsey & Company, digital educators Salman Khan and Shantanu Sinha argue that “replicating for hundreds of millions of aspiring learners what a few thousand previously experienced in the lecture halls of Harvard, MIT or Stanford would require an absurdly large investment. But now, this information is available to anyone with a cheap laptop and a broadband connection.” Indeed, today, Indian students are the largest users of massive open online courses from MIT and Harvard.

Healthcare offers similar possibilities. Cheap devices (GE’s X-ray costs $50), sensors and broadband connectivity will open up access to healthcare, and at lower costs than the standard brick and mortar solutions (often at a fiftieth of the comparable U.S. cost). Swasthya Slate (a tablet device for patients to perform self-diagnostic tests including electrocardiograms, blood sugar, blood pressure, and heart rate readings) and “m-steth” (mobile stethoscope to transmit heart data) are smart, affordable substitutes for over half of all doctor visits. This is life-changing in a country like India, where the doctor to patient ratio is a meager 1:1,700 (compared with 1:400 in the United States).

A better future awaits India in areas like energy and infrastructure as well. InReimagining India, venture capitalist Vinod Khosla argues that rather than building more highways to accommodate more cars (like the developed countries), India could think about the best transportation system for self-driving (or driverless) vehicles. Schneider Electric’s President and CEO, Jean-Pascal Tricoire hopes that India will seize the golden opportunity to create an intelligent electrical grid that relies on more end-use efficiency and renewables, effectively leapfrogging conventional energy systems and becoming self-sufficient without incurring all the costs and collateral damage of the traditional model.

India-U.S. Relations: Rocked and in a Hard Place

DECEMBER 30, 2013
The recent arrest and strip-search of an Indian diplomat by U.S. marshals has severely strained relations between the two democracies, throwing up a nasty December surprise when all should have been calm and mostly bright.

Since Dec. 12, when Devyani Khobragade, the Indian deputy consul general in New York, was arrested on charges she had underpaid her nanny, relations between the two countries have cooled. The sudden chill is threatening to freeze progress made by India and the United States over the years. The last decade saw estrangement turn to engagement as the two countries recognized a convergence of their strategic interests. The vision was lofty, the potential unlimited. It was nothing short of two democracies joining hands to fight the good fight.

How could a version of "Nannygate" rock relations and put them in a hard place? The short answer: negligence, disarray, and a lack of foresight in Washington. Some apparently thought nailing an Indian diplomat over a wage dispute was more important than the overall relationship. If they miscalculated, they have only themselves to question. They have shattered the trust the Indian bureaucracy was starting to build with their American counterparts.

The fury in India against Khobragade's public humiliation is widespread and real. The Indian government is angry at the apparent disregard by the Obama administration for diplomatic conventions, courtesies, and norms. New Delhi can't fathom why the United States, a friendly country and India's much-celebrated "strategic partner," would treat a female diplomat like a hardened criminal and then throw the book at them.

India's protests over the case are neither exaggerated nor irrational. Americans demand and receive special treatment as diplomats abroad, far more special than the treatment they offer foreign diplomats serving in Washington. U.S. diplomats are whisked out at the first hint of trouble with local laws, even when the crimes are egregious. Yet reciprocity is one of the main planks of diplomatic relations. India's message: The United States will no longer be a friend with special benefits if it won't extend even basic courtesies in return. 

There is little dispute that the case was badly handled -- authorities don't typically handcuff, strip- and cavity-search a diplomat for an offense of allegedly underpaying a nanny. Khobragade was not accused of a "grave" crime, nor was she evading the police. The narrative in the United States has centered on the diplomat's alleged misconduct and the rightness of the U.S. prosecutor's case without reference to legal developments in India.

Khobragade is accused of making false statements on a visa application for Sangeeta Richard and not paying her the U.S. minimum wage. But what is not widely known is that Richard reportedly disappeared from Khobragade's New York home in June, forcing the Indian government to start legal proceedings in New Delhi for her repatriation because she was in violation of her visa obligations. Her official passport was revoked.

The Case Against India’s Diplomat

There are complex historical reasons for India’s outrage over the recent arrest of one of its diplomats.
By Omer Aziz
December 27, 2013

Consider the following scenario: a diplomat in New York is found to have slaves in her home, an abject violation of U.S. laws. After investigation, U.S. authorities arrest and search the diplomat, who as a consular official has only limited diplomatic immunity. Would the diplomat’s home country be justified in vehemently castigating U.S. officials?

Replace the word “slave” with “underpaid domestic worker,” and we have precisely the situation confronting the U.S. and India. The diplomat in question, a consular official named Devyani Khobragade, allegedly falsified documents and lied on her visa application about the wages she would pay her housekeeper, Sangeeta Richard. If providing fraudulent information were not enough, Khobragade then surreptitiously paid Richard a paltry wage of $3.31 an hour, breaking U.S. labor laws. For a nanny, this wage would be considered lavish by Indian standards, but the nanny was employed in New York and thus her employment was subject to U.S. rather than Indian laws. The affidavit filed in the Southern District of New York clearly states that Khobragade filed the visa application herself.

While Khobragade has repeatedly insinuated that she was mistreated and underwent a cavity search, the U.S. attorney has called this “misinformation.” According to the attorney’s statement, Khobragade was given two hours to make phone calls, was placed in a cell with only female inmates, and was even brought coffee. Nevertheless, Indians have taken to the streets in droves to protest U.S. action, encouraged by jingoistic news reports that highlight the diplomat’s arrest but say nothing about the housekeeper. With barely 900 Indian Foreign Service officers, each Indian diplomat occupies one of the most elite positions in all of Indian society, while the millions of housekeepers in India toil in anonymity. Indeed, according to the Global Slavery Index, India has the highest number of slaves in the world at 14 million. Yet official India claims there is only “one victim” here.

Al Qaeda’s Big Year

How the terrorist group made a comeback in 2013.
December 29, 2013

Any way you measure it, 2013 was a good year for al Qaeda. It wasn’t supposed to be. Shortly after the United States killed the group’s charismatic leader, Osama bin Laden, a couple of years ago, Obama administration officials openly proclaimed that his death, coupled with targeted strikes that eliminated other senior jihadist leaders, had just about put al Qaeda out of business. Leon Panetta, then the defense secretary, stated in July 2011 that the United States was “within reach” of “strategically defeating” al Qaeda if it killed or captured 10 to 20 of its remaining leaders.

But as this year ends, the jihadist group’s regional affiliates have dramatically reasserted themselves in multiple countries, carrying out spectacular attacks and inflicting increasing levels of carnage. Though it’s hard to come by reliable estimates of the deaths they caused, the number is certainly in the thousands, and more than half a dozen countries now view these affiliates, or foreigners who have joined their ranks, as their top national security concern. The affiliates’ regeneration became so apparent over the course of this year that President Barack Obama was forced to clarify that his administration’s various claims of al Qaeda’s decimation were limited to the core leadership in Pakistan alone.

The year began with France spearheading a military intervention to push back jihadist groups that had seized territory in northern Mali, an impoverished country in the bone-dry Sahel region of Africa. France’s operation achieved some success, but a brigade led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar—who has pledged his loyalty directly to al Qaeda’s senior leaders—seized more than 800 hostages in a retaliatory operation at Algeria’s In Amenas gas complex. At least 39 foreign hostages were killed during the operation.

France’s war in Mali also showed how deteriorating conditions in Libya, where the new government has never been able to assert its authority, help the jihadist cause. Some of the In Amenas attackers reportedlytrained in southern Libya (where camps prepare militants for suicide missions, among other things), and used the country as a staging ground for the hostage-taking operation. And as France advanced on the battlefield, many jihadist fighters fled to southwest Libya, where theyevaded pursuit by “blending with local militant groups,” according to theWall Street Journal.

U.S. Intelligence Community Pessimistic About the Future of Afghanistan

Afghanistan is at a crossroads today but U.S. pessimism is largely overblown.
December 31, 2013

Over the weekend, The Washington Post, citing members of the U.S. intelligence and defense community, reported that a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on the future of Afghanistan “predicts that the Taliban and other power brokers will become increasingly influential as the United States winds down its longest war in history.” This conclusion was offered by “officials who have read the classified report or received briefings on its conclusions.”

What the WaPo’s sources confirm is that the urgency the United States has placed behind the signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with Hamid Karzai’s government is well-placed and based on a sort of consensus within the U.S. intelligence community. Karzai, for a variety of political considerations, has been intransigent on the matter of the BSA after initially appearing to approve of its terms – he claims that signing the BSA is a matter for his successor to decide after the general elections in April 2014. Instead, Karzai has looked to Afghanistan’s neighbors – India and Iran – for defense assistance and support. Just a week after his reluctance to sign the BSA, Karzai signed a security pact with Iran and soon thereafter went to New Delhi.

The latest intelligence estimate, of course, specifically focuses on the deleterious consequences for U.S. national security interests should Afghanistan fall back to the Taliban by 2017. Specifically, the report predicts that the initial objective in Afghanistan – removing the Taliban and disabling al Qaeda’s operations within the country – could fail spectacularly and the Taliban could return in full-swing by 2017.

The pessimism isn’t universal, however. One official who spoke to the WaPo said that what is likelier is that Afghanistan will see “a recalibration of political power, territory and that kind of thing.” Since the NIE isn’t available for public viewing, its unknown to what extent the agencies weighted the possibility of continued international influence from non-U.S. actors in the region. For the moment, the BSA has broad regional support from friends and rivals alike – China, India, Pakistan, and Russia all support the BSA and a continued U.S. presence of about 8000 troops in Afghanistan.

How to Prevent a War Between China and Japan

By Kishore Mahbubani - Dec 29, 2013

China and Japan, Asia’s two most powerful nations, are increasingly jousting in the skies and in the seas near a set of disputed islands. Although their economies remain deeply intertwined, relations between the two governments seem locked in an irreversible, dangerous downward spiral.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe further embittered feelings last week by visiting the controversial Yasukuni shrine, which honors the souls of Japan’s war dead, including 14 World War II leaders convicted as Class-A war criminals.

Needless to say, neither side seems terribly interested in a rapprochement. That’s a shame, because the deterioration in ties is fairly recent, stemming from a single incident involving the islands administered by Japan, which calls them the Senkakus, and claimed by China, which refers to them as the Diaoyu. A single, symbolic-but-generous gesture could well halt the slide.

Abe, though unquestionably a hawk on China, had nothing to do with the triggering event. In September 2012, then-Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda ordered his government to buy several of the disputed islands from a private owner -- an action which, in China’s view, effectively nationalized them.

Noda hadn’t intended to provoke the Chinese. On the contrary, he aimed to preempt a more aggressive gesture by hyper-nationalist politician Shintaro Ishihara -- then Tokyo’s governor -- who wanted to have the Tokyo metropolitan government purchase the islands and build on them to assert Japan’s sovereignty.

Still, barely two days before Noda’s decision, China’s then-President Hu Jintao had specifically warned him not to proceed. Hu’s concerns were legitimate. For years, China had quietly accepted Japan’s “de facto” occupation of the islands even as it disputed sovereignty. By buying them, Japan appeared to be moving to “de jure” ownership. Given the nationalist mood in China, the Beijing government couldn’t risk appearing weak in its response.

If Abe really wanted to break the chain of escalation that has since played out between China and Japan, he could singlehandedly return to the status quo ante. He would only need to “sell” the islands to a private Japanese foundation or environmental group, ostensibly to preserve their undeveloped natural beauty.

Japanese hard-liners would no doubt regard such a move as a capitulation to China. It wouldn’t be. Even after a sale, Japan would continue its de facto occupation of the islands, as it has for decades. Since the islands’ purchase was made by a previous government, Abe’s Liberal Democrats need not feel bound by the decision. In fact, after pacifying his nationalist supporters by visiting Yasukuni, Abe may be in a stronger position to compromise on the islands.

The Madhes and the Future of Nepal

Recent elections appear to have dashed the hopes of Madhesi activists for autonomy.
By Manish Gyawali
December 30, 2013

The results of Nepal’s Constituent Assembly (CA) elections, held for thesecond time in November 2013, results proved surprising to many observers. In particular, those political forces that had been fighting for a more “identity-based” approach to politics seem to have been defeated. These were namely the largest Maoist party, parties that advocated for a “single” province in the southern plains of Nepal (known as the Madhes, or Madhesh) and other new parties that had fought to bring about identity-based federalism in Nepal and that were strongly identified with particular ethnic groups.

Of these, the Madhesi parties seemed to have been routed most convincingly. The Maoists, while only the third largest political party in the country today, still managed to secure a not insignificant number of first-past-the-post seats and did fairly well in the proportional representation (PR) round. The newly formed “ethnic” parties fared less well, although perhaps that can be attributed to their inexperience with electoral politics. Yet the Madhesi parties had emerged as a significant force during the last CA elections.

Their rejection by the electorate has left them dispirited and shaken. It has also reignited a very basic question, one that was long thought to have been resolved: Does Nepal need federalism? The Madhesi parties were amongst the most vocal proponents of federalism. Ever since the 1950s, when Nepal first became a democracy, Madhesi activists have been agitating for autonomy. Alarmed by what they saw as a Pahade (referring to people from Nepal’s Hill Region) influx into their region and the subordination of their culture, they believed that only complete autonomy would enable them to limit migration and prevent their culture from being amalgamated into the Pahade one.

The only other group with activists similarly committed to an autonomous region are the Limbus. But Limbus make up a much smaller percentage of the Nepali population that do Madhesis. Moreover, Madhesi parties wanted the entire southern plains of Nepal to be recreated as a separate Madhes province. Given the importance Nepalis attach to their southern plains (which is not only the country’s breadbasket but also the main link between Nepal and its largest trading partner, India), if it was to become a single province, Madhes would become the most important in the country.

Thus, if the Madhesi parties had had it their way, Madhes would be a single province and the Madhesi electorate would be overjoyed. Many a Madhesi politician has gone on record saying that the greatest desire of the Madhesi voter was to have a single province spanning the southern third of the country from east to west.

The Top Asia-Pacific Stories for 2013

The Diplomat‘s editors wrap up the top trends and stories from 2013 ahead of the New Year.
By The Diplomat editors
December 27, 2013

As we bring 2013 to a conclusion, The Diplomat‘s editors took a look at the biggest stories from the past year. 2013 was certainly an exciting year for political, economic, cultural, and security developments across the Asia-Pacific and several trends that began this year will continue into 2014.

Asia’s Territorial Disputes Endure

Territorial disputes continued to dominate the strategic landscape of Asia in 2013. Many of these centered on China. Although Beijing continued maneuvering in the South China Sea, the region’s focus shifted to China standoff with Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. The situation continued to escalate throughout the year, before culminating in China announcing an East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in November. Besides its maritime disputes, the Sino-Indo border dispute also escalated when PLA troops set up camp inside India on a number of occasions. Besides its dispute with China in the East China Sea, Japan continued to be involved in disputes with South Korea and Russia. Along with history, the Japanese-Korean dispute over the Dokdo/Takeshima Islands helped perpetuate the two countries’ estrangement. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to quickly resolve their countries’ outstanding disputes over the Kuril Islands. As always, tensions mounted over Kashmir at various times, although India and Pakistan ended the year on a high note. Whether this continues in 2014 will depend in no small part on whether Narendra Modi is elected as India’s next prime minister. Meanwhile, tensions over Afghanistan and Pakistan’s disputed borders rose throughout 2013, and are likely to do so again next year.


Abenomics in 2013: Is Japan Back?

Shinzo Abe’s economic policies had a great year in 2013 but challenges lie ahead.
December 31, 2013

On the final day of trading 2013, Japanese shares closed with an annual gain of 57 percent the highest ever since 1972. That this occurred this year is no coincidence – Shinzo Abe’s three-pronged strategy for Japan’s economy dubbed “Abenomics” is working. For now.

After Japan’s “lost decade” puzzled economists for years, Shinzo Abe in his second term as Prime Minister, with Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda, demonstrated that Japan hadn’t in fact tried everything in its economic toolkit. The surge in Japan’s equity markets this year was largely driven by a renewed inflow of foreign capital, bullish on the prospects of Abe’s economic policies.

Fortune hasn’t been kind to Japan in recent years – the nascent signs of economic recovery in 2008 were dashed by the housing bubble bursting in the United States that turned global finance topsy-turvy. Japan suffered a 0.7 loss in real GDP that year and faced a catastrophic contraction in 2009 when it suffered a staggering 5.2 percent loss in real GDP. After the DPJ came to power, poised to turn Japan’s economic fortunes, there was little in the way of an economic breakthrough as the Bank of Japan refused to behave boldly. After the Tohoku Earthquake and the ensuing disaster at Fukushima in March 2011, Prime Ministers Naoto Kan and Yoshihiko Noda were left as economic lame ducks, ultimately leading to Abe’s return at the end of 2012.

At its core, Abenomics worked in Japan because it addressed Japan’s low nominal growth rate as the disease inhibiting the growth of demand. Furthermore, it recognizes that boosting nominal growth will allow Japan to eventually shed its immense public debt, which was accumulated over 20 years of economic sclerosis and stagnation. Abe and Kuroda were able to address the average Japanese consumer, the national public debt, and woo foreign investors in one fell swoop.

If Abenomics succeeded in 2013, its success may likely have been a fluke. After Abe appointed Kuroda, the pair set out into uncharted waters, determined to bring Japan back on top. Abenomics emblematizes the sort of Keynesian demand side approach to macroeconomic policy that was long necessary in Japan but either political unfeasible or perceived as too risky. As someone who intermittently visited Tokyo twice a year for the past three years, Japan’s economic transformation is palpable and frankly remarkable given the time frame. That the yen’s depreciation against the U.S. dollar (around 25 percent in 2013) jump-started consumer spending can’t be denied.

Four Flashpoints to Watch in 2014

After a tense 2013, don’t expect the Asia-Pacific to be any less fraught next year.
December 30, 2013

Without question, 2013 was a jam-packed year for national security, defense and foreign policy watchers in the Asia-Pacific. What will 2014 bring? Look for next year’s major flashpoints to include mostly familiar themes from the last few years – and almost all include China, one way or another. Below are my top four flashpoints to watch out for in 2014, in ascending order. Think I missed something? Please place your comments below!

4. North Korea Once Again Sparks Tensions: Next year offers countless possibilities for Pyongyang to raise tensions in Northeast Asia – and all are disturbing. From another nuclear or missile test, some sort of aggressive act that sparks a regional crisis (like another ROKS Cheonan incident, or worse) or just an outright collapse, North Korea always has the potential to plunge Northeast Asia and the wider region into a state of chaos. Last year, the actions of Kim Jung-un left me with many sleepless nights as editor of these pages. One can only hope in 2014 that Pyongyang will stick to filling the news cycle with trips by Dennis Rodman – but don’t count on it.

3. U.S.-China Tensions Continue to Grow: The rise of China is certainly a global story with worldwide ramifications. In 2014, look for China’s rise to take a new twist, sparking greater competitive tensions with the United States that are much more out in the open than in years past. From more incidents at sea like the near collision with the USS Cowpens, trade disputes and new trade blocs (perhaps the TTP?), allegations of more spying but from both sides (calling Edward Snowden?), there is no easier prediction to make than that 2014 will not be an easy one for U.S.-China ties. While China talks of creating a new type of great power relations and seeking win-win ties and U.S. President Barack Obama is eager to foster a peaceful relationship, tensions seem to be too great to allow for wishful thinking.

My prediction for 2014 when it comes to Washington and Beijing: Look for the tone of this relationship to get much more competitive, tense, and filled with franks statements of intent from both sides, who will be less eager to please and more confrontational.

2. Drama in the South China Sea: It seems tensions here are never ending. Look for next year to continue a familiar pattern. Considering the number of claimants to the various islands, reefs, inlets and rocks along with the natural resources that are thought to lie beneath them, 2014 should provide plenty of stressful headlines. Look for Beijing to continue to press its claims through what fellow Diplomat author James Holmes calls “Small Stick Diplomacy,” but with a stick that might get a little bit bigger. With Beijing recently deploying its new, but non-functional, aircraft carrier to the region for maneuvers after declaring a new air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea, look for China to keep the pressure on in areas like Second Thomas Shoal.

1. Drama in the East China Sea: Forget Syria’s civil war, Iran’s nuclear program or America’s drawdown in Afghanistan – there is no more important international hotspot in the world today than in the East China Sea, where tensions between China and Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands are ongoing. Given that the world’s second and third largest economies are locked into a cycle of increasing tensions that could conceivably draw in the U.S., the stakes could not be any higher. With China continuing to probe the area with naval and air assets and declaring an ADIZ over the area, while Japan seeks to enhance its armed forces with a focus on defending this disputed area, a deadly witches brew seems to be taking shape. Could naval and air assets come close enough that an incident occurs? What happens then? In 2014, we might just find out.

More Violence in Xinjiang Leaves 8 Dead

Chinese state media are reporting another incidence of violence in Xinjiang.
December 31, 2013

Chinese state media are reporting another incidence of violence in Xinjiang. According to reports from Xinjiang’s state-run news portal, a group attacked a police station in Yarkand county at around 6:30 am on Monday (Beijing time). The attackers, armed with knives, threw explosives and set a police car on fire. Of the nine assailants, eight were killed by police and one was taken into custody.

The original news item described the attackers as “thugs carrying knives.” However, Xinhua’s official English-language report used the word “terrorist” three times in its brief synopsis of the incident. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Qin Gang also called the incident a “violent terrorist attack” and reiterated that the “Chinese government cracks down on these forces in accordance with law.” However, in response to a direct question, Qin declined to tie the incident to any specific terrorist group, rather saying that the investigation was ongoing.

The Chinese media account is already being contested, however. A spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) told the South China Morning Post that the nine alleged attackers were actually protestors who were “demonstrating against a series of arbitrary arrests.” The spokesman denied that the group attacked the police station at all. The WUC made a similar claim after a clash in mid-December that left 16 dead. After the December 15 incident, the WUC called on the Chinese government “to condemn the latest of a string of killings by their security forces of demonstrators in East Turkestan [Xinjiang], in what is becoming a new trend of state sponsored violence.” In a statement, WUC President Rebiya Kadeer called the recent deaths are part of “a recent trend of state-sponsored violence used to quell Uyghur dissent, whereby authorities ignore due process of the law, shoot and kill Uyghurs, label them terrorists, and then use counter-terrorism to justify the unlawful killings.”

Once again, the details of the situation remain vague. However, it is apparent that these incidents are becoming increasingly common. According to South China Morning Post, the area near Kashgar alone has seen at least 72 deaths due to violent clashes since April 2013. In Xinjiang as a whole, there have been nearly 115 deaths, not counting the five people who died after the October attack in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. This is an issue that is likely continue into 2014 and beyond.

While it’s difficult to verify the motives behind any particular attack, the reasons for general tensions in Xinjiang are easier to pin down. According to Uyghur activists, the native Uyghur population feels repressed, especially when it comes to religious expression. Meanwhile, the influx of immigrants from China’s majority Han ethnic group has caused complaints that the Chinese government is attempting to marginalize Uyghurs within their own homeland. There is also a perception among some Uyghurs that the majority of economic progress in the region benefits these Han immigrants, rather than the natives.

Naked Lunch

Why China's buzzing about President Xi Jinping's simple meal of steamed buns and pig innards.
DECEMBER 30, 2013

Chinese President Xi Jinping walks into the Qing Feng Bun Shop. After lining up like everyone else, he orders steamed buns, pig innard soup, and stir-fried vegetables for about $3.50. After paying for the meal himself, he sits down at a small table....

It sounds like a joke without a punch line. But Xi's Dec. 28 lunchtime visit to a restaurant in western Beijing represents a striking contrast to the usual way the Communist Party presents itself to the Chinese people.

If the medium is the message, it's surely revealing that news of Xi's bun outing first broke in social media, when several eyewitnesses uploaded photos on Sina Weibo, China's Twitter. The images quickly went viral. One Weibo user gushed, "Fellow users, my eyes did not deceive me! Here are the pictures!" Another quipped, "The whole city smells like buns." Many users lauded the president as "calm" and "low-key."

It's not that Chinese are unaccustomed to depictions of their leaders mixing with the proletariat: Newscasts on China Central Television (CCTV), China's largest television network, often include stories of top cadres visiting the poor or sharing a home-cooked meal with ordinary folks. But the Communist Party jealously guards the image of its top brass, quashing any coverage that hasn't been closely stage-managed, even when it's favorable. The CCTV segments look staged and feel formulaic: Top officials are almost always followed by a large entourage of underlings and cameras, with a voiceover from the newscaster praising the leader's affability and down-home charm.

The exceptions are extremely rare and newsworthy. In April 2013, a Beijing taxi driver claimed to have picked up Xi for a short ride, but the authorities quickly and sternly denied the report. In February 2013, when Prime Minister Li Keqiang paid a surprise visit to an impoverished family in the region of Inner Mongolia, a naked little boy ran into a nearby closet to hide from cameras, but not before accidentally flashing the nation -- CCTV allowed the image to run on its newscast, which critics hailed as progress. 

But on his recent lunch outing, Xi went even further. He didn't bring reporters from any state-controlled media -- in fact, he appeared accompanied by just two men, whose identities could not be readily ascertained. One shaky video clip shows Xi slurping soup, paying no heed to awestruck diners who sidle up to have their photos taken with him. In another, Xi obligingly poses for photos as a crowd besieges him with smartphone cameras. The move may have been a stroke of PR genius: Newly armed with grainy (and refreshingly unmodified) photos of their president eating steamed buns, Xi's online supporters can finally hold their ground when faced with photos of former U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke buying his own coffee, or U.S. President Barack Obamachomping down on a burger. Those images have long been popular on the Chinese Internet as an example of how leaders behave in a free and open society. 

Southeast Asia in 2013: Disasters and Election Protests

The year 2013 will be remembered in Southeast Asia as one of deadly disasters and massive post-election protests.
December 31, 2013

Southeast Asia experienced numerous disasters in 2013: oil spills, dengue outbreaks, earthquakes, bus crashes, and massive floods. But the two biggest were the trans-boundary haze pollution that affected Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia; and super typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), which wrought devastation in the central part of the Philippines.

The haze was caused by forest fires in Indonesia, but it had a greater effect on the lives of Singaporeans and Malaysians, although residents of Riau in west Indonesia, ground zero for the airborne pollution, must have suffered the most since they had to deal with both the forest fires and the haze.

Because of the failure to punish palm plantation companies that were mainly responsible for the burning of forests, the haze has become an annual plague in the three neighboring countries. But the haze last June seemed to be the worst in recent years, causing air pollution indexes to soar to record levels in both Singapore and Malaysia.

In an unprecedented move, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono apologized to Singapore and Malaysia and accepted his country’s responsibility for causing the haze. However, his apology came after some of his subordinates created an uproar when they belittled the suffering of their neighbors.

Luckily for the Philippines, it was spared the black haze. But the haze would have seemed a minor inconvenience compared with the hellish impact of super typhoon Haiyan, which battered the Eastern Visayas region of the Philippines.

Haiyan was the strongest storm in the world in 2013, and the fourth strongest to make landfall in history. It caused a tsunami-like storm surge that instantly killed thousands. As of this writing, more than 6,000 have died, but the fatalities could be higher as relief workers continue to work through the debris in many villages.

In an instant, several towns in Samar and Leyte provinces were reduced to wasteland. Survivors lost their homes and livelihoods and many are in fact still sheltered in makeshift evacuation centers. There were complaints about the slow delivery of relief, and the government of President Benigno Aquino III was accused of being inept and inefficient in providing adequate assistance to typhoon victims.

The disaster highlighted the rapid degradation of the environment as well as the vulnerability of small island nations like the Philippines to the harsh impact of climate change.

Another catastrophe – this one man-made – was the widespread irregularities that marred the elections in Malaysia and Cambodia. Naturally, it ignited a maelstrom of protests in both countries.

In Malaysia, hundreds of thousands gathered in Kuala Lumpur, the country’s capital, to protest the outcome of the election that gave the administration coalition a slim majority. “Black 505” refers to the May 5 General Election that was tainted by allegations that the ruling coalition committed massive electoral fraud to remain in power. The ruling party, which has been in power since the 1950s, lost the popular vote but still retained a majority of parliament seats. The series of protests, which spread to other provinces, was also referred to as the “Malaysian Tsunami.”